New robotics workshops train the inventors of the future

The young people who are learning to write software and build robots while creating friendships and building a better future for themselves, their communities and the region.

UNICEF
digital skills
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18 June 2020

Science-loving Syrian and Turkish children gather at the newly opened robotics workshop in Gazikent Youth Centre, located in Gaziantep in Turkey. The centre, run by the Turkish Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS) and supported by UNICEF, is a popular local venue for adolescents and offers a variety of activities in a safe and supportive environment, including robotics workshops.

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The Digital Skills and Robotics Workshop in Gazikent Youth Centre is a joint initiative between UNICEF and MoYS, with the financial support from the Government of the United States of America. It offers unique, educational and stimulating robotics classes to mixed groups of Syrian and Turkish young people. Participants work in teams to plan, build and test their own robotics creations while learning science in a hands-on and fun way and socializing with young people from different communities.

So far, around 100 adolescents between the age of 13 and 15 have participated in activities of the robotics workshop. With eight more workshops currently being established in other community centers in cities around southeast Turkey, including Mardin, Kilis, Şanlıurfa and Adıyaman, around 2,000 additional adolescent girls and boys are expected to benefit from similar activities.

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“To be honest, I wasn’t interested at all at first. I thought only boys would do this kind of things. But when one of my friends suggested to go and take a look, I agreed. I’ve been coming ever since” says 14 year-old Heba (middle) from Syria, who came to Turkey five years ago.   

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14 year-old Nur from Turkey, (left), is Heba’s closest friend. They met at this robotics workshop.

“When I first came here, Heba and I got paired up to work on an experiment. We’ve been working together ever since. We also see each other outside of the workshop. We go shopping together. I never had a close friend who was Syrian before,” she says.

 

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When we ask her what she thinks about this workshop, Nur replies: “We are all here because we like robots, coding and technology. The codes we write and the robots we make have no nationality, really. You can’t tell whether I made this certain robot or my Syrian friend made it. I used to think we had nothing in common. It seems I had to come here to find out that there is really no difference between us.”

boys digital skills
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Sameer, 14, is in eighth grade. His interest in robotics goes way back. “My dad was a mechanic in Syria, and my brother and I used to go watch him repair cars. We made our first very basic robot with the spare parts we found in the garage” he says.

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When we ask him whether he made any robots at this workshop, Sameer says with a grin: “I actually made a robot aeroplane but it didn’t fly. Now, I’m trying to work out what went wrong.” He hasn’t yet decided what he wants to do when he grows older but he says: “There are people who discover mathematics, who invent computers. I want to be like them.”

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"I’d never heard about this centre before,” says Mücahit, 14 year old Turkish boy, another participant at the workshop and whom his friends call the best coder.

“Our science teacher at school mentioned this robotics workshop and the coding classes. When I was little, I used to like films with robots in them. I loved the way they talked. So I really wanted to check out this workshop.”

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I learned here that all technology depends on coding. Even doors that open and close are kinds of robots, when you think about it. Right now I’m working on a mechanism like that. Of course, what we do here is very basic but it helps us learn. Plus, I met many like-minded friends just like me. We all have a love for inventing. We understand each other.”

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Mehmet, the volunteer trainer at the workshop said: “Regardless of where children come from, if they are given the chance, they all soon overcome the barriers in learning.”

We couldn’t agree more! These digital skills, including robotics workshops, are one of many activities UNICEF carries out in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services, and the GAP Administration to promote social cohesion and the meaningful engagement of refugee and Turkish adolescents. Through the efforts of these partners and the generous financial support of the Government of the United States of America as well as other donors, 85,721 children were reached with social cohesion activities in 2019 of which 40,993 were boys and 44,728 were girls.